The Cafe Man

I was thinking earlier today about the changes I’ve seen in Surry Hills in the seventeen years I’ve been living here, and of some of the memorable characters I’ve noticed.

For a long time, for example, there was a woman I knew as “Beryl”, who appeared to be living rough. Often you would see her walking around with a bottle of something in a brown paper bag under her arm. Other times you would see her unconscious in an Oxford Street nook or cranny. Other times, you would see her walking around with a smile on her face, saying hello to people, and with her skin showing signs she hadn’t been drinking for a while. A friend told me once her name was “Beryl”, and that she came from a wealthy family, until the booze had gotten the better of her. Who knows. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Beryl” walking around Surry Hills, so perhaps she’s gotten her life in order again and has found a home, or perhaps she’s died. I don’t know, but I do remember “Beryl”.

Also for a long time there was a man who used to sit on a milk crate on Cleveland Street and blow a single note repeatedly on a recorder. It got really annoying after a while. There was one very still night, I remember, when the noise of the recorder wafted its way down my street and into my bedroom window. Imagine how annoying that was. Clearly, he had some problems in his life also, and like, “Beryl”, it’s been a while since I’ve seen (and heard) him. I’m hoping something good has come of his life, though I’m pretty sure that’s probably not the case.

There were the two older women, I remember, who lived together in a house just down the street from me. Sisters? Partners? I was never quite sure. But it seemed like they were always in the front garden area of their terrace watching the world go by. They would always smile and say hello. Occasionally you would see them walking slowly to the supermarket and back. A few years ago one of them died and presumably the other moved out in a home/hostel or with family. I remember the sadness I felt when I saw a lot of their furniture in the back lane way, ready for a council pick up, or for someone else to take away their posessions. That’s it, over.

Oh yeah, and there’s the guy who I still often see and also wonder about. I have this image of him as a fashionable hair-dresser about town in the early eighties. I get that image because, I swear, because he still has the bleach blonde perm, the happy shoes, and wears that Boy George androgynous style of early eighties clothing. He’s a mystery man to me.

Which brings me to the other man I’ve been noticing for the last twelve months or so. Every day, it seems, he is seated at the same cafe. He is always by himself, reading the paper, sipping on coffee, and smoking a cigarette. He is obviously quite attached to the particular seat in which he sits as he is always there. One day, I was seated with a friend having lunch in “his seat” and I could see the look of annoyance/terror on his face that someone was seated in “his seat”.

I wonder how long it is before I also become one of the “characters” of Surry Hills.

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